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Student Affairs

Office of the Vice President

Four must-do's for all first-year students

By Keith B. Humphrey,
Vice President for Student Affairs

Welcome to Fall Quarter at Cal Poly! For those of you who know me, you know that this is my favorite time of the year – when students come back to campus after a long summer hiatus.  Cal Poly just isn’t the same place when you’re gone, so I’m glad you are home.

By now, many of you have already started the process of settling in and getting a routine down for the upcoming academic year. For some of our newest Mustangs, however, college is a big adjustment – and believe it or not, I was there once too!

With this in mind, allow me to share a few pieces of advice that all first-year students (and even continuing students) can use throughout their journey as a Cal Poly Mustang. Enjoy!

Find your community

Adjusting to college life is hard enough, so take the time to develop your community of friends and allies. You can start this process by checking our student clubs and organizations. With more than 400 student clubs and organizations on campus, there’s something for just about everyone – from sports and culture, to religion and service-based, or anything in between!

Another great way to build community is to connect with the Cross Cultural Centers. No matter who you are, our centers offer a wide variety of programs designed to help you find your home-away-from-home, explore your identities, and build lifelong relationships with fellow Mustangs! In addition, I encourage you to check out some of our other amazing community programs, such as the Dream Center, the Black Academic Excellence Center, and the Center for Service in Action, among others.

And remember, give it time.  Finding your “people” doesn’t happen on the first day. For many, it can take several quarters to find your community.  One of our recent student body presidents used to speak about not finding her community until the middle of her sophomore year – and she turned out ok!

Get started on career planning

It’s never too early to plan for your future as a Cal Poly graduate – even now, as you’re making your way through your first week of classes. Your first step is to connect with the Career Services’ Freshman Focus Team, which can help you explore career options, assess your strengths, and develop a game plan with your future in mind. Be sure to visit the Career Services website to learn more about our Freshman Focus Team and other opportunities (like career fairs and workshops in resume writing) to get your career headed in the right direction.

Need to sharpen your leadership and communication skills for your future career? Consider enrolling in a Leadership Certificate series offered by the Center for Leadership. These not-for-credit quarterly series are a great way to meet fellow students who share your interests AND learn some new skills that will serve you well – both during your time at Cal Poly and beyond!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I cannot stress this enough – ask for help when you need it, whether it’s in the classroom or otherwise. Asking for help is not weakness – it’s just the smart thing to do.

You will come across a course that will challenge you – and that’s a good thing. Honestly, there were times in my college career when a hard-earned C felt way more satisfying than an easy A (you’ll have to explain this concept to your parents and supporters). While these experiences can be character-building, it’s also important to know where to turn when you need some extra tutoring or guidance.

One great source of help is the Academic Skills Center, which offers free one-on-one and group tutoring, supplemental workshops in math and science, help developing better studying habits. You’ll also want to check out the Mustang Success Center and the Office of Writing and Learning Initiatives – they’re both great resources to help you stay on track academically! 

Some of you will also experience challenges outside of the classroom. To that end, Student Affairs has a range of free and low-cost services to help you stay on budget – and on track to graduation.

Campus Health and Wellbeing offers a host of medical services, prescriptions, counseling services, and peer education programs designed to keep you well and thriving. Many of these services are funded through the health services fee included in your tuition, so take advantage of this low-cost (and often, free) resource!

Cal Poly Cares is a great resource and safety net service for students who are struggling financially. The program provides one-time financial assistance grants of up to $2,000 for eligible students experiencing financial emergencies. The program started in 2015 when members of the Cal Poly Foundation Board generously stepped up and created the Cal Poly Foundation Fund for Students to fund it!

If you’re in need of professional clothing for an important interview, check out the Professional Clothing Closet in Career Services. This is an amazing service that offers free, high-quality professional attire so you can look your best.

The Cal Poly Hunger Program is another great resource that provides meal vouchers redeemable on campus for food insecure students. This program includes the Cal Poly Food Pantry, which gives students access to toiletries, fresh produce and other nutritious groceries to prepare at home. Finally, the program also helps eligible students secure assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Just remember that everyone needs help sometimes – and often we’re the last ones to recognize when we need help ourselves. So, if you see a fellow student struggling, reach out to them and give them the helping hand you might need one day.

Just be you

If there’s one final piece of advice to impart, it’s simply this – be you. College is a time for you to truly explore who you are. Some of you will look back four or five years from now and won’t recognize the first-year version of yourselves. Just know that Cal Poly is a place for everyone. This is your home and you belong here – regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or who you love.

So take it from me, your vice president for Student Affairs and the person who once struggled to wrap his head around these same issues as a college student – go out and explore all that Cal Poly has to offer.

You’ve got this, Mustangs. Have a great year!

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